Daytona, Fl. (January 28-29, 2023)
Endurance racing is the ultimate test of man and machine. Both are pushed beyond their limits and those that win truly do earn their crown. In this realm of motorsports, one of the crown jewels is the Rolex 24 Hours Of Daytona. Over the course of 24 nonstop hours, teams will test their resolve and technical prowess on the high speed banking of the world famous Daytona International Speedway.
This year’s 61st running of this classic race brings added intrigue and drama. Three years prior, IMSA the governing body for sports car racing in the United States and The FIA World Endurance Championship who run the storied 24 Hours Of Le Mans got together to unify their rules so that cars from the top classes can race easily in each other’s series. For this, IMSA has brought back a familiar class name for their top level cars. These cars will now compete in the GTP class, which mirrors the FIA’s LMDh class. These technical marvels now feature hybrid technology to help create a sustainable future. This year teams from Acura, BMW, Cadillac, and Porsche will all run the exact same hybrid powertrain, while the rest of the vehicle will be unique to each manufacturer.
For those not familiar with IMSA or sports car racing, multiple classes of cars are all on the track at the same time. Besides the aforementioned GTP class, the other classes are LMP 2 (LeMans Prototype) and LMP 3. LMP 2 cars are strictly gas powered and have less horsepower than their GTP rivals yet are still stunningly quick. If the new GTP cars have any reliability issues the LMP 2 cars will be breathing down their necks. The LMP 3 cars have even less horsepower and are considered the entry path into the prototype class. The sports cars are divided into two classes the GTD Pro and GTD. The cars are pretty much identical, but the difference is in the drivers. The GTD Pro class features only professional drivers while the GTD class requires each team to have at least one amateur driver. The manufacturers represented in those groups are Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Corvette, Lexus, and Mercedes.
With the new class of cars, excitement had built up for this years contest. So much so that a record sixty one teams signed up to compete. The only thing that limited the field size was there was only enough room on pit row for that many teams. The new class also enticed German performance giants Porsche and BMW to jump into the fray with entirely new cars. They joined series regulars Acura and Cadillac. Team RLL would take up the mantle for BMW, while Roger Penske would join up with Porsche. Rounding out the GTP cars would be last years winning team Meyer Shank Racing Acura, Konica Minolta Acura, Cadillac Racing like Team RLL and Penske Porsche would field two cars , and rounding things out would be Whelen Engineering Cadillac.
When the impressive field of cars finally took to the speedway for the traditional rolling start, the record crowd was on its feet excitedly waiting for the race to start. When the flag finally waved green pole winner Tom Blomquist nailed the start and his Meyers Shank Racing Acura leapt into the lead. But minutes into the race the #8 Tower Motorsport’s LMP2 car slowed to a halt between NASCAR turns three and four causing a yellow flag so the car could be cleared from the track. After that the racing was intense among the GTP cars. Even after the first rounds of drivers changes the number 60 car still held onto the lead with Colin Braun piloting it. But the number 1 Cadillac with Renger van der Zande behind the wheel was breathing down their necks a scant four seconds behind.
While there was much concern about the reliability of the new GTP car’s the Acura’s, Cadillac’s , and Porsche’s were holding up well, but luck was not with one of the BMW’s. Technical gremlins forced the number 25 BMW to a halt on the track only for it to be brought back to the garages. As the evening progressed the Cadillac’s started to come alive and put pressure on the Acura’. After a restart later in the evening Helio Castroneves, two time Rolex champ as well as Indy 500 champ, was at his turn behind the wheel of the race leading number 60 Acura. As the flag went green Castroneves spun the car heading into turn one and flat spotted the tires. After getting the car pointed the right way , he made his way back to the pits for a full tire change. But the damage was done and now the 31 Whelen Cadillac snatched the lead with a resurgent Porsche in second place.
At the nine hour mark all three Cadillac’s were at the top of the leaderboard and solidly in control of the race and the traditional fireworks display seemed to celebrate their dominance. But a late caution flag bunched the field up and was the break that the number 60 Acura needed to climb back into contention after the earlier spin and subsequent unplanned pit stop. With Blomquist back at the wheel of the Acura he brought his team back into contention with some of the finest driving the race had seen. The Acura’s late night rebirth continued When Colin Braun on an extended stint in the number 60 Acura retook the race lead.
Throughout the overnight hours no one was backing off an inch. Eight of the nine GTP cars were still going at it hot and heavy with three cars on the lead lap and three more within three laps of the leaders. As the sun climbed into the sky, daylight found the number 1 Cadillac out in front with a twelve second lead over the 60 Acura. When the Cadillac pulled into the pits for a driver change the Acura took advantage of this and pulled back into the lead.
With the morning progressing the two Cadillac’s and the 60 Acura would be exchanging positions and making things exciting for everyone. With three hours to go and the race slowed due to a caution period, when the race resumed Colin Braun timed it perfectly and drove around Sebastion Bourdais in the number 1 Cadillac to take the lead. The racing was taught and there was a scant 2.5 seconds between the top two cars. The last hour of the race saw multiple yellow flags bunch the field back up keeping things tight. During one of the cautions Tom Blomquist took back over in the Acura and proceeded to dominate the field. He pulled away from all the other cars to take his second win at the Rolex 24 Hours Of Daytona by a solid 4 seconds and the Meyers Shank squads third overall win.
While all eyes were on the action in the GTP class, the LMP2 class provided the most exciting finish. The number 55 Oreca Proton Competition eked out the win over the 04 Oreca Crowdstrike by a razor thin one thousandth of a second. In the LMP 3 class the number 17 Duqueine of AWA won its class by a dominating seventeen laps. The GTD class was won by the Heart Of Racing squad in the number 27 Aston Martin Vantage. Not only did the team win their class, but they finished ahead of GTD pro class winners Weather Tech Racing number 79 Mercedes – AMG GT3.
With the 61st edition of the Rolex 24 Hours Of Daytona in the books, and all the exciting racing it provided, there would be no more questions as to how competitive the new GTP class would be. With eight of the nine cars running after a hard fought twenty four hours all the teams were now officially battle tested. All the issues that testing won’t show were now revealed and after a couple of days to celebrate and recover it will be back to work for everyone. In a few short weeks all the teams will be getting ready to go to war on the rough scrabble tarmac that is Sebring International Raceway for the next round in IMSA’s season, the legendary 12 Hours of Sebring.
Daytona International Speedway: